Hit & Run

So It Turns Out We Do Have a First Amendment

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Fantastic news out of Washington state:

The state Supreme Court said in an opinion released this morning that KVI talk show hosts did not need to report their advocacy for an anti-gas tax campaign as an in-kind political contribution. And the court has reinstated a countersuit filed by the No New Gas Tax (NNGT) campaign against local governments that initially sued.

Here's some background on the case from Brian Anderson.

Early in 2005, the Democrat-controlled legislature passed—and Democratic governor Christine Gregoire signed—a bill boosting the state's gasoline tax a whopping 9.5 cents per gallon over the next four years, supposedly to fund transportation projects. Thinking that their taxes were already plenty high and that the state's notoriously corrupt Transportation Department would just squander the gas-tax revenues (millions on enviro-friendly wildlife overpasses, for instance, but little on new roads), some citizens organized an initiative campaign, as Washington law allows, to junk the new levy: No New Gas Tax.

Two popular conservative talk radio hosts, Kirby Wilbur and John Carlson, explained why the gas tax was bad news and urged listeners to sign the 225,000 petitions necessary to get the rollback initiative on the November ballot, though they played no official role in the campaign and regularly featured on their shows defenders as well as opponents of the tax hike. With the hosts' help, the petition drive got almost twice the needed signatures, but the ballot initiative, strongly opposed by labor unions, the state's liberal media, environmental groups, and other powerful interests, narrowly lost.

Meantime, however, a group of pro-tax politicians sued No New Gas Tax, arguing that Wilbur's and Carlson's on-air commentaries were "in-kind contributions" and that the anti-tax campaign had failed to report them to the proper state authorities.

The plaintiffs have finally lost that case, which should have been laughed out of court in the first place.